BANGKOK — Millions of Muslims in Thailand are advised to remain at home and avoid religious gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Friday.
The Sheikhul Islam Office, the national authority on religious matters, said that Muslims should stay at home throughout Ramadan. Aziz Pitakkumpolm, head of the Sheikhul Islam Office, even suggested that fasting at home will benefit Muslims’ health amid the pandemic.
“The pandemic is not an obstacle to our fast,” Aziz said in a Friday statement. “On the contrary, the fast will increase immunities in the bodies of those who do it, both in body and spirit.”
The chief cleric added that although Ramadan this year coincided with a global anxiety, “faith in Allah will calm us and give us confidence in doing this religious activity. … The COVID-19 pandemic is a sign from Allah to remind humans to be conscious and not fall to the ways of materialism.”
“This year’s Ramadan is not like the years before,” Arun Umaji, director of the Islamic Committee of Satun province, said Friday. Arun said he had asked all 238 mosques in the province to practice the Tarawih prayer and read the Qu’ran at home.
“This will make the family warn and lively as they do ibadah together,” the cleric said.
Most of Thailand’s Muslim population lives in the southern region, which has been particularly hit hard by the epidemic.
Dozens of COVID-19 infections were linked to a religious pilgrimage of Thai Muslims returning from Indonesia. The Sheikhul Islam Office had called for a halt on these pilgrammages.
Despite calls for social distancing by the country’s leading Islamic figure, an official said he expected some people to go to mosques nevertheless.
“It’s just like the government lockdown. Even with the curfew in place, thousands still break it,” Wisut Binlateh, director of the southern office of the Sheikul Islam Office, said by phone Friday.
“So of course there will be some people who do it,” he continued. “Some lack understanding, while others think that no one at their home is infected, so they can go outside.”
In a major change to the tradition of shopping for Ramadan in Thailand, Yala governor Chaiyasit Panitpong said food cannot be sold on the streets during the holy month this year. Food can only be sold in shops and stalls.
At least 700 Thai Muslims residing in Bangkok, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan, also headed south for their home provinces on Thursday to observe Ramadan.
Some Thais stranded in Malaysia also defied the government’s border closure by swimming through the Golok River. The authorities said police have arrested 53 people, who were fined 800 baht each.
Ramadan in Thailand is expected to end on May 22.
A man kneels on the ground in prayer on April 24, 2020 at the Betong Boundary Post in Yala, on the border between Thailand and Malaysia.